Stephanie Saliba arrested over Riad Salameh's case
Lebanese actress Stephanie Saliba, who has links to Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, was arrested on Friday, a judicial official and the state-run National News Agency said.
The development is the latest in the controversy surrounding Salameh, who is being investigated for corruption as an economic meltdown and financial collapse convulse the tiny nation.
According to the National News Agency, a judge, acting on a request by Financial Prosecutor Judge Ali Ibrahim, ordered that Saliba be placed in custody after she showed up earlier in the day at the prosecutor’s office in Beirut for questioning. The report gave no reason for her arrest.
A judicial official said investigative Judge Iman Abdallah questioned Saliba over "illicit enrichment and money laundering."
Another judicial source meanwhile told Agence France Presse that Saliba "is currently detained pending investigation following orders from the financial prosecutor."
Saliba arrived in Lebanon on Wednesday after taking part in a film festival in the Saudi city of Jeddah and was detained after previously failing to appear for questioning, the judicial source added.
Salameh is being investigated in several European nations, including Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein, for potential money laundering and embezzlement. He has repeatedly denied corruption charges.
Reports in Lebanese media say the governor gave Saliba expensive gifts. But a second judicial source with knowledge of the Salameh probe said there was no proof the central bank chief had directly transferred any money to Saliba.
"The gifts she received from Salameh, whether it was a house or jewelry, do not amount to money laundering," the source added.
Earlier this week, Mount Lebanon Prosecutor Judge Ghada Aoun, who has been investigating Salameh, issued a search warrant for Saliba's home as part of her investigation of the governor.
Aoun refused to comment on the case when contacted by The Associated Press on Friday, saying only: "I did not issue the arrest warrant. I know nothing."
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati had on Thursday denied a media report claiming that he had mediated with security agencies to prevent Saliba’s arrest at the Rafik Hariri International Airport.
The daily had reported that Judge Aoun had circulated the search warrant to security agencies and that “political interferences at a high level, especially by caretaker PM Najib Mikati, prevented Saliba’s arrest upon her arrival… to Beirut’s airport.”
Since 2019, Lebanon has been in the grips of the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history, rooted in decades of corruption and mismanagement by the country's political class.
Many hold the 72-year-old Salameh responsible for the crisis, citing policies that drove up national debt and caused the Lebanese pound to lose 90% of its value against the dollar. The Central Bank governor, who has held the post for the past three decades, still enjoys the backing of top politicians.